Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Do You Want to Know a Secret (part 4 - by Margaret Ullrich)

Nadia’s teachers had no such illusions nor any such children. In Corona the motto was “Sicily Rules”. Corona had been settled by Italians. My parents had enough trouble learning enough English to make their way in America. They didn’t want to have to learn Italian, too. They decided Corona was too much trouble and moved further east. The only North American cultural icon Nadia and I shared was Ed Sullivan. Nadia removed the shamrock pin and placed it on her dresser. “So, ya had a party. Did Zia Netta hafta make somethin’?”

I didn’t want to talk about school. The St. Patrick party had followed the same routine as always. The Irish girls had worn short green jumpers and taken turns impressing the rest of us with their folk dances. They would stand ramrod stiff, with their arms straight down, and jump and kick. I had seen it for ten years. The thrill was gone. I was sorry I had brought the pin. “No. We bought tickets.”
Nadia liked learning exotic recipes. She hoped the Sisters had been giving us cooking lessons. “Whadya have?”
“Corned beef and soda bread.”
“Whaa? Coca Cola?”
“No. Baking soda.” My friend, Maureen Shuart, had explained the mystery of soda bread when we were in kindergarten. Compared to Nadia, I had been exposed to a very cosmopolitan diet.
“How was it?”
I shrugged. “Okay. This time it had raisins.” Nadia was impressed at my knowledge of foreign cuisine. “So, talk ta me. What’s it like there? I gotta tell ya, they got some St. Patrick’s parade in Manhattan. So, what’re they like?”
I didn’t know what to say. When it was time for St. Patrick’s there were shamrocks and little green men in all the stores and ads. There was a huge parade down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. We even got a school holiday. I only saw pictures of St. Joseph surrounded by starving Sicilians in Corona. My teachers and classmates were different from what Nadia had, all right. Finally, I said, “They’re . . . they’re . . . Americans.”

Nadia took offence. “Whadaya mean? My Mom’s parents was born here. My Mom was born here. I was born here.”
“Yeah, but you’re . . . you know . . . uh, some people are more American than others.”
Nadia was hotter than the iron. “Wheredaya get off? Tellin’ me how ta be American. Of all the nerve! Ya just fell off a boat!”
Well, I was used to being told that, so I just put on my stupid immigrant smile and said, “That’s why I have to learn to act like them.”

I should have stopped with the sappy smile. Admitting I was learning how to behave like a non-Sicilian American had opened another can of worms. Pop’s moving us out of Corona had really upset the relatives we had in Corona. Nadia quoted her Dad. “Here ya’d fit in. Ya know, yer not Irish.”
Okay. I knew what my Pop had said. “And, you know, I’m not Sicilian.”
“Still, yer more like us’n them. Ya know, Zia Demi’s always sayin’ that Zio Peter shoulda stayed in Corona.”
“So what?”
“She’s our Dads’ oldest sister. What she says is law.”

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